Thursday, October 6, 2016
Eight Big Mistakes New Donkey Owners Make
So you want to own a donkey of your very own? Donkeys are amazing animals with intelligence, charm, and beauty. But are they for YOU? Donkeys are very different than horses and other livestock. It is very important to research on your own, as well as contact a donkey knowledgeable vet before buying or adopting or rescuing a donkey. Every animal is an individual with individual needs, and therefore must be assessed on a case by case basis. These are the biggest mistakes I see on a daily basis.
1. Feeding a donkey like a horse or a cow.
Donkeys are desert dwellers who are meant to survive both on forage and browse on woody material. That means that they have VERY thrifty digestive systems. Unless your donkey is pregnant or lactating, or is skinny, or is working hard and needs extra calories, you really don't need to feed them much. I always buy the "best worst" hay I can find, grass hay only. Some mammoth owners do need to feed grains and alfalfa, since some mammoth bloodlines are less thrifty. Minis especially don't need much. What happens when you feed your donkey alfalfa and sweet feed when they don't need it? Huge crests that fall over and fat pads appear, coupled with founder in many cases. Owning donkeys is like having a diabetic in your household....we watch ours very closely for weight gain! Because donkeys will eat woody plants as well, don't assume your trees or wooden barn or fence will be safe from chewing!
2. Assuming that donkeys do not need the same medical attention as a horse.
Many people think that just because donkeys are both hardy and rarely show symptoms of illness until it is too late, that they are exempt from the same medical care that goes into horses. Not so. Find a donkey knowledgeable (not many veterinarians actually know much about donkeys as compared to horses) veterinarian BEFORE you get your donkeys. Then find a backup vet in case the first one is away. Don't have money for medical care? Don't get a donkey! Donkeys need both vaccines and dewormer the same as horses. Vaccines are given in the same dosage as would be given to a horse, but dewormer is by weight, and therefore you must estimate the weight of your donkey using a weight tape. There are also ways to measure and calculate weight that are a bit more accurate, if you look online. Dewormer should be given in relation to what parasites need to be killed off during certain times of the year, and will vary depending on your setup and if you have high shedders in your herd. A fecal exam done by your veterinarian is the only reliable way to test for parasites and see what is going on and what needs to be taken care of.
3. Not castrating jacks.
Unless you own a high quality jack and you are a responsible breeder with a business plan, keeping jacks intact not only can cause harm to you and your family, but also to any other animals you have. Jacks can be very sweet, but are like stallions, and can be dangerous if you don't know how to house or handle them. They often get out and seek female equines, causing unplanned and unwanted foals. There are a LOT of unwanted donkeys out there! There are plenty to rescue instead of breed. In fact, there are many pregnant jennets at auctions. If you truly want to save donkeys and also want to witness the miracle of birth, find a pregnant jennet to rescue (if you have the means and veterinary support).
4. Not having a proper hoof care professional.
Donkeys need their hooves cared for in a timely manner. Some can get away with just a few trims a year if the donkey lives on ground that helps them self trim, but most people need to bring in a farrier at least every 8 weeks, if not sooner, to trim their donkeys' hooves. Donkeys do not have similar hooves to horses, and need them trimmed differently to prevent joint and ligament issues. Many times, people leave their donkeys to grow long, slipper like hooves that cause permanent damage to the animal and are very hard to correct. Most farrier, even ones who say they can do donkeys, don't actually know how to trim them. The other issue people run into is their donkey never was handled correctly and they are hard to trim. It requires patience and sometimes nerves of steel to train a reluctant donkey to pick up hooves safely for a farrier. If you can't handle that, please find a donkey who has been trained to pick up its feet well. Some donkeys, especially rescues who were abused or are scared, may need to be sedated for their first few trims, just to get them done safely. Be prepared for that cost if you bring in a donkey who needs a trim but isn't trained yet.
5. Getting in a hurry.
I know there are other medical issues that could be discussed here, but this is a big one when dealing with donkeys. Donkeys are very very intelligent. They can sense if you are in a rush or have an agenda. Assuming you can frighten them into doing something for you like you would a horse will simply not work, at least not more than once! Horses evolved on the plains, where if something spooked them, they could run forever and escape. We take advantage of that fact when training them. They will move away from pressure once trained to do so. Donkeys evolved in arid, mountainous regions where running could cost you your life and take you out of the gene pool. So, when frightened, donkeys will sometimes runs short distance, but many times will "baulk" and stop their feet. The more urgency and pressure you put on a donkey, the more they will baulk, because now you just gave them more reason not to do what you want....now it is more scary! Waiting like you have all the time in the world will help your donkey relax and trust you. If you don't have all the time in the world, it probably isn't a good idea to work with your donkey that day. Keeping training sessions short and without much repetition (donkeys think that repetition just means they did it wrong the first time, so why do it that way again?) is the best way to train.
6. Only getting one donkey.
Get two at least! Donkeys prefer the company of another donkey. Horses just don't know how to speak "donkey", and although donkeys can live with other species, they generally would prefer their own kind. Many donkeys bond for life with another, and a lot of rescues will not adopt out a single donkey for that reason. Please don't let your donkey be lonely. If you can't take in two, maybe they aren't for you!
7. Thinking donkeys are the perfect solution for guarding livestock.
Donkeys are prey animals. NOT predators. Yes, they can be very vigilant and some enjoy protecting a herd of sheep or cattle. You will hear success stories from people who think guardian donkeys are the bees knees. The reality is there are very few donkeys cut out for guard work, and truthfully they really shouldn't be placed in that situation in the first place, being prey animals! However, many many many attempted guard donkeys are discarded because they actually will attack the livestock they are supposed to protect. Many people get small standards or minis who get killed or severely harmed when a larger animal or pack of predators attacks. Also, cows and sheep have different dietary requirements from donkeys, and many times guard donkeys aren't being fed a diet low enough in sugars, and get obese. Have a great guardian donkey? Thats fantastic, but you are in the minority.
8. Not researching first.
I can't tell you how many times I have been contacted by people who are kind hearted, and therefore rescued a donkey, but don't have the adequate shelter, fencing, money, veterinary support, farrier support, or appropriate feed/hay. PLEASE research any animal before you buy or rescue one! Have everything all set up and ready first. It will cause a lot less stress both to you and your new animals. For example, a lot of people don't realize that donkeys can live into their 50's!! So making a plan for if they outlive you is very important. Another example I see regularly is someone who doesn't understand what constitutes a medical emergency. This is something that there have been books and books written about (mostly for horses, but can be extrapolated for donkeys and other equines). There is absolutely no reason not to research and educate yourself before or during the first few months of owning a donkey on what means a simple home fix and what means a vet visit ASAP. If in doubt, call your vet!!
Thank you for reading this list! I know, there are probably a hundred more items I could add to this list, but these were the big things that came to mind. This list is not to cause anyone to feel badly, it is to help people make sure they check off certain things before adding to their family. Donkeys are fantastic animals, but they aren't for everyone. And remember, they are like potato chips, you can't have just one...or just two...or just ten......! They are addicting!